The Dress Up Case, A Miles Mitchell Mystery


The pace of  being a Private Investigator fluctuates with every job, some are slow ponderous affairs that last weeks, others spring on you like mouse grabbing cheese from a trap and if you are lucky you get a chunk of cheddar.

This night was slow, I had eaten my popcorn while watching The Longest Day for the third time and I was getting ready for bed when my phone rang.

“Hello Beautiful.”

“Hey Honey, I got a case for you.”

I perked up. “Does it pay?”

“Would I bring you anything else baby?”

“You did not answer the question.”  I stated hoping my smile crossed the phone lines.

“Well.” Millie said stretching out the word. I could hear diner noises in the background, so I knew she was still at work.

“What is it?” I said.

“It’s a partial contingency case, you get paid a lot if you find something but just your basic rate if you don’t.” Millie said.

“What’s the catch?”

“You only got two days starting tomorrow morning and you have to meet with the client right away.”

I let out long “okay” and she told me to be at her diner in an hour. No time to  shower but I put on a clean shirt to meet with the client. 

Arriving at Millie’s with five minutes to spare I checked in with the hostess Daphne who was too busy at the moment to give me one of her verbal jabs, she just rolled her eyes and pointed towards the tables in the back.

The diner was almost empty since it was closing in on midnight. I navigated thru the tables and booths to where I saw Millie sitting in the back room. She had her ever-present tablet with her doing some sort of restaurant business while resting her feet. I leaned over and kissed her on the forehead, she looked up and saw what I was wearing and nodded.

“I am glad you are wearing a clean shirt.”

“Not just a clean shirt but the one you got me for Christmas.”

“It was your birthday.” She said shaking her head.

“Same difference.” I shrugged as I sat at the table.

She looked at me with a strange look and then spoke. “There is something I need to tell you about this case.”

I was about to ask her what it was when a stranger and a strange person entered the back room. I shot a dirty look over at Millie who mouthed a silent “I am so sorry” right before I stood up.

“Hi there, I am Miles Mitchell and I understand you need a private investigator.”    I shook the young man’s hand, and he was about to say something when the strange person spoke up.

“Miles no hug for your mother?”    

My mother is one of the most eccentric people I know, and in this job, you meet a lot of unconventional types.  I did not realize how strange she was until about the third grade. She homeschooled me till I was eight, then she threw me into Ms. McCullough’s class at the local elementary school so she could work full time on her business; before that time, I had no basis for comparison.  I lived with her until I was eighteen, when that magical number hit, I was out the door.

“Hello Mother.” I said nodding to her.

“I see you are still such a sour puss.” She said making a tsk, tsk sound with her mouth.  

I simply shook my head. She was way overdressed for Millie’s diner, wearing what must be a thousand dollar perfectly tailored pants suit made out of black silk, I knew someone where on her black silk shirt was a diamond encrusted Mickey Mouse pin.  I turned away from her and looked over the stranger, a young man, about thirty, wearing expensive business casual clothing, good looking but not overly so, just average, his clothes said money but his mannerisms said accountant.

“My name is Guy Lanier and I need your help Mr. Mitchell.”

The word help told me this man had a personal stake in this and it was more than about money. My mother’s presence told me this was deeply Disney related.

I motioned for Mr. Lanier to sit down, and mother sat down on his left, I took the seat across the table, and Millie as a way to make amends to me, offered to get us all coffee. 

“What can I help you with Mr. Lanier?”

“Well you see it is about some hat pins.”

“Hat pins?”

“Yes, they are, or were my grandmothers, until I accidentally gave them away.”

“It was an honest mistake dear and Gladys will forgive you, you are after all her favorite grandson.” My mother patting Lanier’s hand affectionately.

This did little to lift his spirts, but he continued. “My grandmother is a very generous woman.”

“Yes, she is I mean what she has done for Hurricane Relief in central Florida alone should be enough for her sainthood.” My mother added.

I looked over at my mother with a slight glare. “Mother, perhaps you could let Mr. Lanier tell me his problem.”

She did not look chastised at all. “Of course, honey.” Then she looked at Lanier again. “Go on Guy continue.”

“Are you familiar with Dapper Days Mr. Mitchell?”

Before I could answer my mother answered for me. “Of course, he is, Miles has his finger on the pulse of everything that goes on at the parks.”

“Thank you, mother.” I said through gritted teeth, I turned toward Lanier. “Yes, it is a loose organization of people who like to wear refined styles from yesterday and today. They started out in Disneyland, but it has grown and is now done here at Walt Disney World.”

Guy nodded. “In fact, it is going on right now, last night we had an auction for a Dapper Day Charity and two of my grandmother’s hat pins were auctioned off by accident.”

“And you don’t know who bid on the items?”

My mother chimed in. “It was a silent auction, cash only.”

“We thought it was all costume jewelry, not worth much so we did not keep records.” Guy Lanier said.

I nodded.

“There was one stipulation.” Guy stated

“The items obtained at the auction would have to be worn at the parks at least once over the next two days.” My mother stated finishing his sentence again.

I held up a hand towards my mother stopping her, surprisingly she complied. “Can you describe the items?” I said turning towards Guy Lanier.

“They were two hat pins about five inches each, one had a black opal and the other had a sapphire each one in a gold setting.” Guy produced a picture of each of them.  They were older photographs as they were both on Kodachrome paper, showing off the colors brilliantly. I whistled as I saw them, they were big stones. The pictures had dates on the back telling me they were taken in July of 1972.

“They were originally owned by Lillian Disney and given to Gladys in 1972.”  My mother added. “So, in addition to their intrinsic value they have historic value as well.”

I nodded, I did not mean to be crass, but I wanted to know my cut if I found the hat pins, but nothing ventured nothing gained. “So, what was the worth of the two hat pins?”

Guy paused and let out a breath, then looked up towards the ceiling.  “I would say about five thousand dollars.”

“Oh, Guy it is worth much more than that, I saw a similar piece go at auction for fifteen thousand dollars.”

I looked at my mother and shook my head. “Okay, let’s just call it five thousand dollars.” I said turning back towards Guy. “And if I find the hat pins in two days?”

“A twenty-five percent finder’s fee?”

I nodded, that seemed fair.

“Miles Mitchell that is not acceptable.”

I held up my hand to stop her, but she just continued. “The Laniers are personal friends of me and I do not wish for you to take advantage of their dire predicament and their desperation.”

I wondered when she was going to try and derail this whole thing, but I was ready for her, with the one thing that would stop her dead in her tracks.  Something she had taught me from a young age. “Mother this is how I make a living; my business and business is business.”

She was about to start a new outburst, but she stopped and bit her tongue. This was also how I was able to afford to move out when I was eighteen. I worked for her part time, and I heard her say the phrase many times dealing with clients, suppliers, and contractors, business is business.

I received and advance from Guy for day one, which had technically started twenty minutes before.  Guy handed me a schedule of events for the next two days, most of scheduled events were simply photographic meet ups of the participants but there was a final event, drinks at a small convention hall at Coronado Springs resort.

I hoped to find the hat pins before that, but it would my last chance before all the participants scattered to the four corners of the Earth and with my chance to get twelve hundred and fifty smackaroos.

Mr. Guy Lanier departed, and my mother stayed behind talking to Millie who had brought me pie. I was thinking quietly trying to figure out how to find the hat pins when my mother stood over me.

“I will see you and Millie tomorrow morning at 8 on the dot.”

“Me and Millie?”

“Yes, I will get you outfitted for Dapper Days, if you think you are going to just wander among people I know looking for those hat pins dressed like some run of the mill tourist you are sadly mistaken.”

“Mother I am not dressing up.”

“Yes, you are, I already charged Guy for you and Millie’s outfits at cost no mark up, business is business.”

I had an argument planned but she preempted my rebuttal with the argument I had just used.

“You don’t want me to give the money, back do you?”

I let out a breath of air and shook my head. “No Mother, don’t give the money back.” I paused. “Okay Mother, eight a.m., but nothing too involved and heavy, it is supposed to be eighty tomorrow.”

My mother shushed me then peered at me with a critical eye. “Have you lost weight?”

“No Mother I am still a thirty-two-inch waist.”

She looked me up and down with and appraising eye, then abruptly turned and walked away calling over her shoulder. “Eight sharp.”

We arrived at Hollywood Studios early enough to be in place for the first photo shoot which was to take place at ten a.m.  Hollywood Studios is the perfect place for Dapper Days, Sunset and Hollywood Boulevard with its 30s and 40s representation of Tinsel Town than never was, and Echo Lake with its Art Deco themed buildings and kitschy roadside concrete dinosaur. 

We dispersed scoping out the crowd. My mother was helping out as well, knowing lots of people who participated in Dapper Days.  She was in full 1940s garb, an electric blue dress with full billowing petticoat and a matching pill box hat, and white cloth gloves.  My mother was into clothes, her whole business was built on it. I was dressed in a get-up she had laid out for me, red pants, black button-down shirt, white suspenders and sharp yellow leather dress shoes and a classy black fedora.  I can say a lot of negative about my mother, but her clothes sense is not one of them.

I saw Guy approaching quickly and he signaled for me to join him off to the side of the fountain where the first photos were to take place, he had the look of a man highly disturbed.

“I have some bad news.”

“Did you find the pins?”

“No.” He said confused. “Why would that be bad news?”

I spoke without thinking. “Well I would not get my finder’s fee.”

He looked even more confused but shook off my attempt at humor. “No, no, my sister found out the pins were missing and in order to show me up to my grandmother she hired another private investigation firm.”

“Why?”

Guy looked uncomfortable. “My sister is under the impression that my grandmother favors me and thinks she is going to leave more money to me in her will.  She does everything she can to undermine my relationship with her.”

I eyed him suspiciously. “So, who did you sister hire?”

“Mickey Mitchell old man how the heck are you, still looking for Dumbos missing magic feather, Cinderella’s slipper, maybe some Magic Bands?”

I knew that voice, that irritating, highly educated, exceedingly pompous, nasally New England accented voice, Peter Piers, head of the Piers Agency a large private investigation firm.

“His name is not Mickey it is Miles.” I heard my mother say.  Somehow, she had snuck up on me while I was distracted.

“Oh, I am sorry, Miss? A slip of the tongue.” Peter stated.

“I am Maribel Mitchell.” My mother announced.

Peter gave a mock look of surprise. “Miles I did not know you had a sister.”

My mother was not taken in by Peter. “And you are?”

“Piers, Peter Piers of the Piers Agency.”

My mother simply nodded her head. “Mr. Piers, please contact me, if you would like an outfit that is not off the rack.” My mother handed him her card and then took Guy by the arm and allowed him to escort her thru the crowd introducing people as she went.

I smiled at Peter as I saw my mother’s dismissive tone had hit a nerve.  Vanity was one of his weaknesses. “Pete Piers what brings you out here?” I said turning to face my only professional rival, and one who I could not personally stand.

“Oh just a little case, normally I would just send a couple operatives out to handle all this simple leg work, but I had a feeling you would be here, so I thought, it’s a beautiful day why not come out and show you how a real detective agency does a job like this.”

A chuckled unconvincingly, then I put my hand out. “Well good luck Pete.”

“Business must be rough if you are getting your mother to help you.” He said sneering.  “But no luck needed; I told my angels that the one who found the pins would get to have dinner with me at the California Grill tonight, maybe watch the fireworks, then make some fireworks.” He said smirking and shaking my hand. Then he casually strolled away and met with five of his employees, all young, female and pretty.  

The man was a sexual harassment lawsuit waiting to happen but unfortunately that would not stop him and his employees from finding those hat pins before me.  But with Pete in the mix I was going to need help besides just Millie and my mother.

I scrutinized the crowd, checking out every lady and a few guys wearing hats. I found Millie who was circulating in the crowd for just a brief second I stared at her, she was beautiful with her dark hair up in a 40’s style and wearing a red dress with white polka dots,  billowing petticoat underneath and yellow dress shoes.  I approached her and put my hands around her small waist and whispered in her ear. “We got competition.”

“The Piers Agency, I scoped out Peter and his harem while he was talking to you.”

I smiled; she was a sharp-eyed cutie alright. “We are going to need some more peepers on this case.”

“Who you going to call?”  She said waving as some people complimenting her on her ensemble.

“Daniel and Clarissa? Anyone else you can think of that might be free?”

“Clarissa isn’t available I saw her by Chip and Dale as we entered; she is in dressed like a normal guest.”

Everyone knew that when Clarissa was dressed like a typical tourist that means she was running a covert wedding and trying not to draw attention to herself, if she was not working she did everything in her power to stand out and put on a show. “Okay Clarissa is out.”

“How about Ozzy?”

I shrugged. “That is an idea.”  Ozzy was an old guy but new to the area, retired but still spry and hung out in the parks most days.  I kissed Millie on the cheek and ducked into a quiet corner to make some calls.

We mingled among the crowd all day, Daniel and Ozzy showed up there was a bit of confusion about what we were looking for until we showed them the photographs.  

It was exhausting, running around looking for groups of well-dressed people. Then once you found them you tried to be subtle and all but after a while you just ended up just looking at people’s heads, hair, and hats.

When the park closed, we stationed ourselves near the exit in teams and watched people as they left, the conversations were the same. One person would point out a hat and someone else is the group would say they had checked them out. The park was almost empty when we called it quits. I gave thirty bucks to both Daniel and Ozzy for their troubles, Millie also promised them a full meal on the house for two at her diner. They were wiped out but agreed to meet us at the Magic Kingdom to do the whole thing over again the next day.  The only thing that pleased me that day was that I saw Pier’s and his “angels” came up empty handed as well.  

When we got into my car the mood was subdued. “Why don’t you two come back to my house, I have plenty of space, you won’t have to drive to pick up your outfits tomorrow and you can get a good breakfast before we head out.  I simply shrugged, and Millie answered for both of us.

“Maribel that would be lovely, thank you.”

“Won’t Ken mind?” I asked.

“Ken is off on a fishing trip with his sons, so it’s just me bumping around the big old house all alone.” Maribel answered. 

I rolled my eyes, my mother was never alone, her personal assistant was probably there, along with her housekeeper and the chauffer/handyman who lived on the property.  But one more thing my mother was good at was making people feel welcome in her home. I was too tired to argue so I just drove to her house.

The next day we were back early at the Magic Kingdom, my mother had somehow gotten us all early reservations for breakfast, so we were in the parks before rope drop. I stationed my teams underneath the train station, with me and Millie as the pursuit people to check anyone out that slipped thru unchecked. Ozzy had asked for help from his two friends, Regis, and Carlyle, who were in the park anyways. They sat on Main Street, USA most days anyways and watched people so it was nothing extra for them to help us.

I sighted Piers and his team outside the park as we showed our reservations and walked thru Security. It amused me to see him fuming that he had not thought up the ploy to get inside quicker.

So, the watching and following began, I noted several of the same people that were at Studios the day before, and like myself had changed ensembles.  Different hats, different hairstyles, but fortunately the same heads. There seemed to be more people dressed up today, we moved around as the photo opportunities were more numerous and spread out. I sent out teams to cover them.  I did see some hat boxes along with dress bags, so I knew at some point people would be ducking into restrooms to change clothes.  I racked my brain trying to figure out how to do this job better, but I could not come up with any ideas. It would just be hard work and a certain amount of dumb luck.

The day went the same way it did yesterday, with a big goose egg of results, plenty of hat pins sighted but none that at one time belonging to Lillian Disney. The last photo shoot ended, and the participants started leaving the Magic Kingdom.  It was two hours till the drinks event at Coronado Springs, so we all met up at Millie’s Diner for a bite. The team was looking beat.  I told Daniel and Ozzy they would not be needed tonight; they did not argue.

We fortified ourselves with the blue plate special, Meatloaf and Macaroni.  My mother was her typical self, complimenting everyone, including Millie, but getting little jabs in at me. “Millie, I don’t know how you do it, keeping such a tiny waist with such delicious food around you all day. You are quite a catch; it is amazing me you still don’t have a huge diamond on your dainty little finger.”  Millie brushed it off, but my mother said it while looking directly at me.

We were just gathering up our things to return to property when whirlwind Clarissa came in the door.  She was dressed to the nines, a huge crimson hat, a billowing matching dress with crimson and black stripes. She came up to me after greeting everyone in the room. She greeted my mother first. “Maribel, how are you?” They give each other air kisses. The two of them were cut from the same cloth and had become immediate friends’ years before.  Then Clarissa turned towards the group and said loudly. “I understand you are looking for some hat pins.”

Millie and Daniel were standing nearby when I asked her.  “You heard about that; you know anything about them?”

Clarissa smiled. “I was talking to one of Pier’s people, a pretty little thing named Loretta, I have known her for a while, she used to work in catering at the Contemporary.”

“And?”

“They are coming up empty handed as well, they even searched thru Facebook and all the other social media sites but no luck.”

I snapped my fingers, that was something I had not thought of. I saw Daniel opening up his laptop and I knew without asking that he was already searching.  His business was computer based, and he was the best person for the job, and also my best friend, but I knew he was going to charge me, business was business.

I looked back to Clarissa who simply shrugged.  “She told me you were also looking for hat pins with blue and black stones.” Clarissa said smiling.

Millie chimed in. “Did you say blue and black stones?”

My mother and I looked at each other and smiled saying it in unison. “They’re looking for the wrong stones.”

I had called Guy Lanier who confirmed his sister did not have any photographs of the hat pins and my team was the only one who knew exactly what they looked like.

We walked into the ballroom of the Coronado Springs with smiles on our faces, we may not find what we needed to, but we knew for sure Peter Piers and his team never would. I spotted him as soon as I walked in the door, he had somehow gotten a zoot suit.  I looked around and saw his team scattered around the room covertly checking out the three H’s.

Millie and my mother began to work the crowd and I decided to station myself near the door.  I watched the crowd for a while, moving, migrating, mingling everyone having a good time, conversing, and drinking.  We were working under the assumption that the hat pins were being used, but what if they weren’t. What if they were being used in some other fashion? This got in my head, and I just could not shake it as I watched the ballroom.  I needed a sounding board and the best person to talk to was currently in the room.  I got her away from a nice couple from Long Island who were dressed in matching outfits with a naval theme with the colors favored by a certain duck who had a temper.  I saw my mother hand them a business card and she excused herself.  “Now Matthew and Christy remember Maribel Mitchell.”

I gave her the look; she waved her hand dismissively and we both dropped it.  I breeched the subject I had come over to talk to her. “What if whoever bought the pins did not use them as hat pins?”

She mulled it over for a few seconds. “Possibly.”

“So, knowing what we know about what they look like, the color and all, what ensemble would they work with?” 

My mother and I mulled this over for a minute and we scanned the crowd. I pointed to a couple, and my mother shook her head and I agreed, and we continued to examine the crowd, we did this for an hour with time running out.

“Them.” My mother said nodding towards a male couple who were wearing suits that were inspired by the droids R2D2 and C3PO, they were simply put, amazing outfits somehow being classy and nerdy at the same time. I looked at their ties, they each had a stick pin in their ties that in any other clothes would have been too big, but for what their were wearing they were perfect, and they were exactly what we were looking for.  

My mother was already moving towards them and I held back, for all her faults and problems I knew she would be the best person to approach them.  I turned my attention away from my mother as to not alert Piers and his team. I decided to chase someone on the other side of the room to divert attention away from my mother. I tried to look excited and then I got Millie’s attention and directed her to the opposite corner of the room from where my mother was.  I caught Peter out of the corner of my eye, and I saw him speak into his hand. He was signaling for his team to move in my direction. I smiled as Millie caught up to me and I pointed into the corner where a knot of people were gathered, I whispered into her ear.  “We are the decoy; my mother is talking to the people who have the pins.”   

Millie smiled, and joined me in zeroing in on the crowd in the corner. The room was already thinning out and Peter and one of his employees was right behind us.  It was then that the little group we had been watching broke up and started heading towards the door.  They unknowingly had a train of people following them. When they left the room, I stole a glance over at my mother who was handing something to the droid couple, and they handed something back.  I stopped right in the doorway blocking the way.”

I thought it might have been a teachable moment for Pete and his team.  “Hey Pete.”

He stopped in front of me, craning his neck, trying to see the people I had been following. “The name is Peter and please move out of the way.” I continue to block his path and he stopped a little way in front of me. “What is it?”

“You know the funny thing about precious stones?”

“No what’s that?” He said motioning for a couple of his employees to head out another door.

I said the next part loud. “No, no stay you might learn something.” The two young ladies stopped. “The funny things about precious stones is their naming, the names are not always exactly right, and people get the wrong impression.”

By this time, my mother had joined me and Millie at the door, it was great to see she had something clenched in her hand but was holding it down low. “You see black Opal’s are not entirely black and sapphires come in a variety of color, the most commonly known color is blue.”

Peter was getting annoyed. “So?”

My mother passed me the two pins into my hand, I again spoke loud enough for Pete’s employees to hear me. “So, it helps when you are start an investigation if you know exactly what you are looking for.”  I held up the hat pins.  The Black Opal one was a multicolored stone and the sapphire one was a brilliant pink.

The look on Pete’s face was priceless as his jaw dropped, the look on his employee’s face was great with the main thing being shock and annoyance.

“Just goes to show you folks, start from good information and you can be a winner in this game too.” With that I took both my mother and Millie by the hand and we walked triumphantly out of the room.

We got mother back to her house and we were saying our goodbyes.

“Maribel thank you for the outfits.” Millie said from inside my car.

“My pleasure dear, come by anytime.” My mother then turned away and looked at me smiling. “I will give Guy the pins first thing in the morning.”

“I know mother, thanks for all the help.” She hugged me and I hugged her back. I whispered in her ear. “I love you mom, but your legal name is Mabel, not Maribel.”

Other Miles Mitchell Cases:

The Missing Train

The Walkaway Case

The Case of the Missing Mementos

The Missing Heiress 

The Road to A Wedding Case

The Concilatory Case



Categories: A Miles Mitchell Story

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